How Did The Mexican-American War Affect American Society?

The Mexican-American War was a war fought between the United States and Mexico from April 1846 to February 1848. The conflict started as a result of the Republic of Texas’s annexation by the U.S. in 1845, as well as a dispute over whether Texan territory ended at the Nueces or the Rio Grande River. While most amateur historians would point to the more high-profile conflicts such as the American Civil War as leaving a lasting impact on American society, the significance of the Mexican-American War cannot be underestimated.

The Gold Rush

The Mexican-American War culminated in the acquisition of more than 500,000 square miles of Mexican territory which now constitute the current U.S. states of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas. The land acquisition is particularly significant as gold was discovered in California just days before the lands were ceded to the U.S. This resulted in the California Gold Rush, in which around 300,000 prospective miners made their way to California from the other parts of the U.S., as well as abroad, looking to make a fortune. The sudden influx of gold into the U.S.’s money supply rapidly accelerated California’s quest for statehood. In 2021, the impact of the Mexican-American War on American society can still be felt by virtue of California’s economic standing. If California was a sovereign nation, its economy would rank as the fifth largest in the world, just behind that of Germany.

The Industrial Revolution

The remarkable rise in the American economy following the Mexican-American War resulted in the rapid industrial development of the U.S. Forests were converted to lumber, mountains became littered with mining quarries, and plains were replaced by acres of wheat farms. The Second Industrial Revolution gave rise to the “American Dream” – a set of ideals commonly traced back to Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography – which purports that every individual will be able to succeed if he puts in the effort, and American politicians in the twenty-first century continue invoking the “American Dream” in political discourse. Also, the Second Industrial Revolution arguably contributed to making the U.S. the economic superpower it is today, and that would not have been possible if not for the acquisition of these former Mexican lands.

Civil Disobedience

The concept of civil disobedience, which is often used in the twenty-first century by activists and protesters in support of a variety of campaigns and movements, also has its roots in the Mexican-American War. During that time, abolitionists saw the war as an attempt by states where slavery was legal to enhance their political power with the potential creation of more slave states from the Mexican lands. One abolitionist who held such views was Henry David Thoreau, one of the most influential figures in American literature. He was sentenced to prison in July 1846 for refusing to pay six years’ worth of taxes (although he was released after just one night as his aunt paid the taxes for him, against his wishes) due to his strong belief that the U.S. government’s actions which led to the war were immoral. He later documented his opposition to the Mexican-American War in his essay “Civil Disobedience”, which has become a template for twenty-first century activists to follow.

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